SECRETARIAT was considered a disappointing sire,

but the true keepers of the legacy seem to be his daughters.

By: Marianna Haun


E ARLY ONE MORNING LAST FEBRUARY, 2004, I joined equine cardiologist Fred Fregin, VMD, at Three Chimneys Farm outside of Lexington, Kentucky.

This was the latest episode in a 15 year quest. Ever since 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat died in 1989, I had been searching for the source of his 22 pound heart. In tracing the occurrence of large hearts through several generations , I had also noticed an intriguing pattern in the pedigrees: It looked like a large heart might be a sex linked phenomenon, one that could be passed only through mares. But in examining hundreds of horses, Fregin and I had yet to find another horse with a heart as large as Secretariat’s.

On this day, however, I felt our luck would change. We were going to examine a 12 year old breeding stallion named Atticus. We were interested in him for his pedigree: His was a Secretariat daughter, Athyka. And although Atticus never had achieved Secretariat’s stature on the track, the handsome chestnut had had had a respectable racing career: he won 7 of 18 starts, earning $1.2 million, and several of his victories had come in European and American stakes races; what’s more, Atticus had set a new world record for a mile on turf, 1:31.89 in the Arcadia Handicap at Santa Anita.

We arrived at the farm early, before the breeding shed opened, and I stood outside Atticus’s stall while Fregin applied the electrodes to perform an electrocardiogram (ECG). The EGG would record the electrical impulses in the beating heart, and by applying some mathematics to the measurements on the graph, Fregin would be able to calculate the stallion’s heart score, a number that corresponds directly to the physical size of his heart.

In the hundreds of Thoroughbreds I’d watched Fregin measure, we d found that the normal heart score ranged from 104 to 117, and we’d seen some as low as 80. We consider heart scores above 137 to be in the ‘super” category, and this was where we’d found many racing champions.

Fregin knelt on the floor outside the stall studying the tape as it emerged from the machine. After just a few minutes he looked over his shottlder at me and asked, “How big do you think.” “He has to be at least 150 said. “Bigger,” he replied. It was 160---- the highest Fregin had ever recorded in his 30 years of measurements. The reading was so impressive that the cardiologist did something I’d never seen him do----he reached for his cell phone and called a friend who owns an Atticus daughter, telling him, “Don’t sell that horse.” Later, Fregin measured that filly, who at the age of 3 had a heart score of 150, while her dam’s score was 127. Obviously, the filly had her daddy’s heart. After seeing the ECC, I immediately thought of one of my own mares, Tale of Two Hearts, who herself has a heart score in the range of 147 to 150. She’d raced well, although her career was hampered by injury. I asked Three Chimneys to “sign me up,” and on May 22, Tale of Two Hearts was bred to Atticus. Needless to say, I will be praying for a filly.

Thoroughbred Secretariat






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